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The saddest sign yet of why Syrians flee their homeland

ليست دريسدن (ألمانيا) ولا غروزني (روسيا) بل #حمص المدينة العربية السورية..الصور بعدسة طائرة روسية من دون طيارصور فريق russiaworksنقلا عن @aljazeeraarabic

Posted by ‎Al Jazeera Documentary Channel - قناة الجزيرة الوثائقية‎ on Thursday, February 4, 2016

A video captured by a Russian drone-filming company illustrates the total horror of Syria's now five-year-long war. The camera sweeps over a section of Homs, a city north of Damascus that was once the country's third-largest urban center, a bustling home to some 600,000 people.

Now, much of Homs is a hollowed-out ghost town. Buildings and apartment complexes are emptied husks, their windows blasted out, walls and roofs reduced to rubble. Only a few people walk the dusty streets. The vista captured by the drone is one of total ruin and desolation.

The Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, has claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 people and displaced roughly half the country's population. More than 4 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homeland because of the war.

Syria's neighbors — chiefly Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — are straining under the burden of having to accommodate the refugee influx. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have made repeated entreaties to the international community to help cope with the desperate shortfall of relief funds. The bleak conditions have compelled some Syrian refugees to make the even riskier journey to greener pastures in Europe.

The drone video's Russian camera operator writes in a YouTube caption that Homs has been wrecked by "radical Islamists and foreign mercenaries," according to the Middle East Eye website.

That's in keeping with the narrative espoused both by the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Kremlin, which launched an intense military intervention on Assad's behalf last year. As my colleague Andrew Roth reports, the Russian operation has helped stabilize the once teetering regime in Damascus and put Syria's rebel factions on the defensive.

On Tuesday, Syrian government forces made significant gains in the fight around Aleppo, and have now virtually cut off rebels in the major northern city from their Turkish routes of supply.

Homs has been one of the most bitterly contested cities in Syria — and its destruction is not simply the fault of rebels or supposed "terrorists." The Assad regime launched a withering offensive on rebel factions to regain control of the city, which was one of the early centers of the pro-democracy uprising in 2011. It involved months of heavy aerial bombardment and street-to-street fighting, ending only in the summer of 2014.

The violence has hardly subsided. Activists say recent Russian airstrikes in the city's environs have led to many civilian casualties.